Posted on October 3, 2010
During the Hawaii Department of Education's debacle concerning furlough days, when teachers forfeited professional development days (and students their own right to learning on regular school days), there were a number of editorial letters on the importance of professional development. A newspaper writer doing some investigative reporting called several Hawaii school principals and asked them about their stance on professional development. Like my colleagues, I believe that providing opportunities for teachers to improve their practice is essential to their students' success. The issue is how a school can support teachers' professional development in a meaningful way. The notion of a consultant coming in for a few hours or attending a two-hour workshop without any sustained follow through after the session is the most ineffective method of improving teaching practice. Many teachers can attest to the classic model of the uninspired one-time in-service workshop, often delivered after school when attention and energy are often waning after a long day in the classroom. What works best?
An article in the October 3, 2010 issue of Education Week discusses some of the research on professional development. For the past ten years or so, there has been ongoing research and discussion on a professional development model that seems to be making a difference. According to the article, "This preferred approach holds that for teacher learning to truly matter, it needs to take place in a more active and coherent intellectual environment--one in which ideas can be exchanged and an explicit connection to the bigger picture of school improvement is made." This view of professional development highlights the need for "collaborative learning contexts, teacher research and inquiry, engagement in practical tasks of instruction and assessment, exploration of relevant subject matter, and consistent feedback and follow-up activities."
MPI embraces this current view of professional development schoolwide. In fact, the professional days last year and the upcoming October 8 full-day session (no school, parents!) are planned as collaborative learning contexts, with discussion in mixed groups of teachers, and teachers as facilitators. This Friday, the faculty will be learning about project-based learning, which is an approach that "engages students in a sustained, cooperative investigation" (Bransford & Stein 1993). PBL emerges naturally from an inquiry mindset in response to a problem, complex question, or challenge. An inquiry approach, as practiced in our preschool and elementary, springs from students' questions about information they have been learning about. The faculty will be developing a project together in response to a challenge. Rather than let the cat out of the bag, I'll withhold detail about this innovative professional development until next week, after October 8.
Besides these schoolwide professional development, the teachers at the preschool and elementary are also involved in PD experiences that more directly address their own needs and the needs of their students. For example, this Monday, October 4, the preschool team will be in a webcam session with our Reggio consultant, Dr. George Forman, professor emeritus at the University of Amherst in Massachusetts. They also meet every Friday to discuss several aspects of the program, such as documentation and the art of asking questions in an early childhood setting. I've already written about the weekly faculty lunch meetings held every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Sometimes these small teacher groups are called "professional learning communities" or "communities of learning." Whatever the name, the teachers and I just know how much we look forward to "talking shop" -- specifically this year on how technology is used to support our students' learning. And we continue to meet as an entire preschool and elementary faculty and grade-level groups every other Wednesday.
We take professional development very seriously at MPI. We invest in these head-to-heart meetings about our professional practice because it does make a difference in our students' learning.
For our children,
Edna L. Hussey